Leather jackets are one of my favorite items to thrift. Shopping second hand is not only great for the environment, it’s also great for my wallet. I have scored incredible classic leather jackets and accessories for a fraction of the original cost! The jacket featured in this post was a $20 score. With that said, I like to give thrifted clothing of any kind a good cleaning before adding it to my closet (like this suede jacket I purchased a few years ago).
Unfortunately, leather can’t simply be tossed into the wash or taken to a dry cleaner. But with the right tools you can clean a leather jacket pretty easily. Below, I walk you through the exact steps on how to clean a leather jacket, remove weird smells, and generally make your leather jacket look as good as new again!
Common Leather Jacket Materials
Before we get into the steps to clean a leather jacket, let’s talk about the most common types of leather jackets you might find.
- Full Grain Leather – Full grain leather is not sanded or buffed, so it retains markings and develops a patina over time. While this grade of leather is extremely durable, it is also highly susceptible to staining. This is commonly used when making heavy duty leather products but can also be used in very high end leather clothing and accessories.
- Top Grain Leather – Top grain leather is made from splitting a piece of full grain leather then sanding to remove imperfections. Some artisans stamp this leather with pebbled and other patterns. This grade of leather is more naturally stain resistant and is commonly used to make purses and wallets.
- Genuine Leather – Thinner and lesser quality than full grain and top grain leather, genuine leather is commonly used to make affordable leather jackets, purses, belts, and other accessories. Manufacturers will bond several layers of this thin leather together with glue, then stain the finished product to make it look uniform.
- Suede & Nubuck – Suede and nubuck both have a napped surface. Suede is crafted from leather that has been split and rawhide removed, while nubuck is top grain leather that has been sanded or buffed. Neither is meant to get wet, so take great care when cleaning!
- Synthetic Leather – Bonded leather, patent leather, and corrected grain leather are more durable (but lesser quality) materials and can usually be cleaned effectively using a sponge dampened with soapy water.
- Faux Leather – Faux leather is commonly crafted from a plastic material then bonded to a fabric base (e.g. polyester, cotton, nylon, or rayon). This is a very low cost, vegan alternative to leather and can also be cleaned effectively using a sponge dampened with soapy water.
Another important note: Prior to any cleaning, don’t forget to check care labels!
How to Clean Leather Jacket Liner
Cleaning the liner of any jacket (leather, suede or otherwise) can be done using the following process:
- Dilute 1 tbsp of laundry detergent in 4c of water
- Wet a soft sponge in the soapy water then squeeze out all excess moisture
- Hang your jacket inside out, then gently scrub the liner material with your dampened sponge (NOTE: Always test this first in an inconspicuous location and allow to fully dry before applying to the rest of your jacket liner)
- Rinse your sponge in clean water to remove any detergent residue, then squeeze out all excess moisture
- Gently scrub the jacket liner with the clean, lightly damp sponge to remove detergent residue
- Allow jacket to hang inside out until completely dry
How to Clean Leather Jacket Exterior
There is a lot of conflicting data out there around the best ways to clean leather. Some sites recommend fully submerging your jacket in a tub with water (I do not recommend this), others suggest DIY cleaning and conditioning solutions like vinegar and olive oil (I also do not recommend this for most jackets).
While I am very in favor of non-toxic, DIY cleaning alternatives, I believe that some products simply need a specialty formula to get the job done right. And generally, high quality leather products are expensive – let’s invest in the proper care materials to keep it in the best shape for as long as possible! See below for details:
Leather Cleaning Products:
- Apply leather cleaner to your jacket per product instructions
- Allow cleaner to dry completely
- Follow up with leather conditioner per product instructions
- Allow to dry completely before wearing or hanging back in your closet
- NOTE: Always test leather cleaning products on an inconspicuous location (interior cuff is a good option) before applying to the entire jacket. Allow the product to dry completely to determine how or if it will affect the color of your jacket first!
How to Remove Odor from Leather Jacket
If after applying the leather cleaning techniques mentioned above your jacket still has a strange smell, here are some additional odor-reducing techniques worth trying.
Baking Soda – Baking soda is a natural odor eliminator and should help lift any weird, lingering smells from your jacket.
- Fill a pillowcase with baking soda and toss your jacket in as well.
- Shake it around then set it aside for 24 hours.
- The next day, remove your jacket from the pillowcase in a location where you can easily brush off baking soda from the surface.
- Your jacket should smell much better, if not, then repeat this process!
Vinegar – I realize that earlier in this article I encouraged you to stay away from using vinegar on your leather, but if your jacket is still smelly after more gentle cleaning and odor eliminating techniques, it’s time to take bigger action. What good is your stinky jacket anyway if you won’t wear it, perfect exterior or not?
- Mix 1 part vinegar with 1 part water in a reusable spray bottle
- Spray this mixture onto a microfiber cloth or soft towel then gently rub over the smelly surface of your jacket (liner, exterior, or both)
- Allow the jacket to hang until completely dry
- Repeat this process as necessary until smells are completely gone
Removing Stains from a Leather Jacket
- Using a q-tip, very gently dab nail polish remover on the ink stain. Be sure to blot, never rub nail polish remover on your leather jacket.
- Alternatively, you can purchase a product like an ink removal stick to remove stains.
- Always follow ink stain removal with a leather conditioner.
Oil or Grease Stains
- If possible, immediately cover grease stain with baking soda.
- Time is your best friend when it comes to oil stains, the longer the stain sets into your jacket, the less likely you are to get it out properly!
- Try applying non-gel toothpaste to a soft cloth then gently rubbing over the stain to remove.
*NOTE: As always, please test these stain removal techniques on an inconspicuous location on your jacket first!
How Often to Clean a Leather Jacket
In a perfect world, you will clean and condition leather jackets (plus shoes, purses, wallets, and belts) once a year. Spring is a good time to do this especially if you live in an environment where it snows! Give each of these items a good clean and condition once the snow melts and your leather goods will be ready to go for the next season.
How to Store Leather Jackets
You want to store your jackets in a cool, dry and dark location to prevent fading and unwanted aging. Make sure to use a sturdy hanger for your leather jackets as they tend to be heavier pieces in a wardrobe.
Note on Dry Cleaning Leather
Should you take your leather clothing to a dry cleaner? The short answer is no.
If your jacket is in need of professional cleaning, find a cleaner that specializes in leather – most regular dry cleaners do NOT so be careful when deciding who to trust!